Students returning to Santa Fe High School in August will enter through a newly constructed and tightly secured front lobby district officials hope would protect against future shooting attacks.
The Santa Fe Independent School District Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to spend about $1.5 million on a series of security updates at the high school. It’s the first major approval of renovations since a May 18 shooting left 10 people dead and another 13 injured inside the high school.
“We want to get as many as these hardening things done as we can before school starts,” board President J.R. “Rusty” Norman said.
The vote came against a backdrop of growing frustration among residents. Even as the board was completing its meeting, more than 100 people were meeting at Santa Fe City Hall to discuss their concern about the district’s process of upgrading security and raising the possibility of replacing some school board members in November’s election.
The lobby security vestibule will cost up to $250,000 to build, officials said. It will allow students and others to enter only a lobby area without being buzzed in by a school staff member inside a nearby office.
That staff member will be behind a window coated with a “bullet-resistant glaze,” officials said.
The board also approved spending up to $650,000 to demolish and renovate the part of the high school where the shooting took place, officials said. Two art classrooms will be demolished, and a new hallway will be constructed through part of the school, so students can avoid that section.
Some classes will be moved to accommodate the renovation, and the space marked for demolition won’t be used, officials said.
The district also will replace door locks around the high school, allowing classrooms to be locked from the inside, and replace the fire alarms with an upgraded system allowing teachers to activate panic alarms from inside classrooms, officials said.
The district plans to have many of the renovations completed by the beginning of the school year on Aug. 21. But some items, including the bullet-proofed window and the alarm system, might not be completed until after the school year begins, Norman said.
“There will be other changes after school starts,” Norman said.
The school voted down a proposal to install a 6-foot-tall fence around the high school campus and to limit vehicle access. The fence would have cost about $180,000.
“We’re very much in tune with the community and the parents of the school district and overwhelmingly they did not want that,” Trustee Sheryl Skufca said.
A fence might have been more of a security risk than an improvement, she said.
“With fences, students would not have been able to get out the way they did,” she said.
The renovations are the first physical improvement the school board has approved since the shooting, although other security measures already had been announced.
A $39 million budget passed June 25 funded five new police officers and five new security guards. The district also approved money for weapons, vehicles and other equipment for those new positions.
Officials have promised more mental health counselors at the high school.
For some parents, the two-month process to get to Tuesday’s votes was long and frustrating. At the city hall meeting, parents discussed their feelings about perceived inaction by school officials, both in addressing security in future and in dealing with past complaints about bullying and other issues.
The group resolved to carry out its own survey about what people wanted to see as far as security updates. That survey would be passed on to the district, Mark Brachter, parent of a high schooler, who helped lead and organize the meeting, said.
“We want the community to give them information,” Brachter said. “This is what the community wants, this is what we want implemented.”
Some residents have been skeptical about the district’s own safety committee, which meets in private and was selected by the administration after an application period. The concerns have been amplified because at least one of the members of the safety committee, school board Trustee Patrick Kelly, has been cool to the idea of installing metal detectors.
The group was interested in recruiting people to run for school board positions in the fall, Brachter said.
Some people at the parents meeting said they were pleased Norman and Superintendent Leigh Wall had attended the meeting and listened to their concerns.
More votes are expected. The district’s safety and security committee plans to meet Thursday, when it might submit recommendations to the school board.
Another special meeting will be held Monday, Norman said.